Just over 16 years ago, the cultural phenomenon otherwise known as “nipplegate” shocked the nation after Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson performed at the 2004 Superbowl Halftime show. If you have been living under a rock since then, you may or may not be aware of what exactly went down. The TLDR version is that at the very end of the performance, Timberlake pulled off a piece of Jackson’s costume that revealed her right breast for less than a second to over 143 million viewers.
I was only 9-years-old at the time of Nipplegate and was unaware of Janet Jackson’s success as a musician and only really figured out the effects of this event on her career only within the past few years as an adult, but I now know that this half a second may or may not have actually been a wardrobe function or not resulted in the demise of Jackson’s career as a solo artist. A handful of broadcast companies enforced a blacklist of Jackson’s singles and music videos across the globe. She was uninvited from the 46th Grammy awards the following weekend. Timberlake was not uninvited, and he also got to perform.
It’s hard to say whether or not something like this would have the same effect on Jackson if it were to happen ten years later, but if you take a look at artists on the rise in 2010s, like Tove Lo, you wonder if we are actually over this intense scrutiny of Nipplegate.
The first time I had a chance to see Tove Lo live was back in 2015. I had been venturing around the grounds of Lollapalooza, the first of the three-day festival and my third year attending. I had only known a handful of her tracks and was overall indifferent on seeing her set. After watching maybe ten minutes, I decided her performance wasn’t for me and decided to check out another set. I don’t particularly remember specific reasons why I wasn’t into the set other than the (now very obvious) reason that I found her performance aesthetic to be a little too raunchy for my then 20-year-old self. Just a few months prior to Tove Lo’s debut at Lollapalooza, she had started flashing the audience at a handful of shows, which (of course) caused quite a stir on the internet. As far as I can remember, I didn’t see this happen during the set, but I was aware that she had been doing it—and that not everyone was receiving it positively.
Tove Lo’s journey as an artist has been an atypical one. Born as Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson in Stockholm, Sweden, Tove Lo initially found success in her career as a songwriter, earning a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music in 2011. She was signed to Universal Music Group, Island, and Polydor as a recording artist in 2013, and her debut album Queen Of The Clouds was released in 2014.
Queen Of The Clouds debuted at number 14 on the Billboard 200 chart, creating the buzz behind the track “Habits (Stay High),” which eventually peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100. In between releasing albums in 2016, 2017, and most recently 2019, Lo has had success co-writing tracks for artists like Lorde and Ellie Goulding.
I had liked a lot of tracks by Tove Lo in the past, but didn’t really give her a fair chance after seeing her for ten minutes almost five years ago, and I have no problem admitting that that’s stupid. Her most recent album, Sunshine Kitty, really got me on board with her sound and it made me venture into her previous releases a bit deeper, and I am OBSESSED with one of her newest songs, “Bikini Porn,” which happened to be co-written and co-produced by Finneas.
I found out a day prior to Tove Lo’s show in Chicago via Instagram that she had fractured her ankle at a show in Brooklyn during the Sunshine Kitty Tour, so she would have to sit for the majority of her set, as she was wearing a boot (covered in rhinestones, of course). I hadn’t ever seen a full set from Lo, so I really didn’t know how this would affect the energy of her set in any way at all. Right off the bat, it was easily noticeable that Tove Lo was making sure not to let the vibes of the evening go in the shitter. Lo took the stage on a red cushioned throne, opening the show with “Glad He’s Gone,” a track about a friend ending a toxic relationship. The sold-out crowd immediately began singing every word back to her with just as much enthusiasm, continuing into the next song “Bad as The Boys” ft. Alma, who is on tour with Lo as a supporting act.
I personally really liked hearing songs like “Cool Girl” (my personal favorite), “Influence,” and “True Disaster,” and it was awesome to see Lo venturing around the stage (minimally) in a boot on her right foot without seeming to miss a beat on the dance moves and crowd interactions. I think it’s hard enough to maintain a crowd’s attention when your body’s capabilities are at full capacity, let alone wearing something as annoying and bulky as a boot.
The most interesting part of this performance was just taking a glimpse around at the attendees. Like I’ve stated several times already, I haven’t been following Lo’s career very closely, so by design I didn’t have any real knowledge on the type of fanbase she has. The crowd was majority women, decked in outfits that I easily would have assumed belonged at an EDM show at The Aragon down the street. All of the attendees seemed to really echo Lo’s sex-positive aesthetic, right down to the infamous ~flashing of the boobs~ moment during “Talking Bodies.”
I’m not sure if there are any other artists operating in the Tove Lo sphere that are also showing their body parts to their audiences (and please point one out to me if you do know of one), I can name a handful of female pop artists who have been able to outwardly sexualize their music without the scrutiny that Tove Lo received over five years ago, let alone what ended Janet Jackson’s career. King Princess has a song where she says the word “pussy” six times—not including the fact that the word is also in the title. Doja Cat has an entire song dedicated to having webcam sex. Regardless of the way that Tove Lo’s choices may have affected her career at the start, it’s obvious that her body-positive attitude has garnered her a close, dedicated fan base, evident to her ability to keep releasing successful albums and performing at sold-out shows.
“I want to do things that make me feel challenged and uncomfortable. I want to attack that little thing that makes you uncomfortable. I want to be confrontational and explore all the emotions.” – Tove Lo, Wyoming News (2020)